Friday, July 07, 2006

Thriller Writers - Renaissance Men and Women?

I just got back from Thrillerfest, where much of the discussion centered around what thriller writers do in their outside lives. A lot of thriller writers, I've learned, have a variety of hobbies and skills, everything from stunt flying to cave diving. And many have other jobs as well - cops, firemen, businessmen, CIA operatives. As I overheard one reader comment, "Doesn't anyone just write books anymore?"

I think part of this is the thriller writer's temperment; he likes high stakes and excitement, so is prone to seek it out in his life, or to use research as an excuse for new adventures. And this topic reminded me of one of my favorite quotations, from JFK during a Commencement speech at Harvard. He was discussing how politicians have strayed in their interests from their intellectual predecessors, remarking of Thomas Jefferson that he was, "a gentleman of 32, who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play the violin." While it would be ill-advised to compare even the most sophisticated of thriller writers to Jefferson, the former President and Renaissance man certainly gives us all something to aspire to.


Carter Cowles said...

Hey Gregg:

Great blog, great post.

I know dozens of writers that could support themselves full-time with their craft, but choose to take on other jobs to 'get out of their own heads.'

It seems that 6 or 8 hours of internal thoughts and scheming, day after day, year after year, can make a person squirrely, resulting in a severly swollen liver or terminal head wound, ala Hemingway or H.S. Thompson. An outside vocation is a healthy mental distraction. Just my opinion, of course.

BTW, I'm spending the weekend down in Charlottesville, home of Jefferson. I'll toast him on your behalf.


Carter said...


Welcome and thanks for the post. Hope you had fun in Charlottesville - great town.


Megaera said...

This is the first time I've read your blog.

The increasing specialization of our society has always worried me. Universities demand ever more specific fields of study, and I wonder how many discoveries we are losing out on as a whole when people consistently choose depth over breadth.

I know it's increasingly difficult to be a generalist; there's almost a cultural bias now towards all on has to do is look at stories in the media to realize that monomania is regarded as a virtue: the pianist who devotes sixteen hours a day to his art, the gymnast or figure skater who gives up a normal childhood for a chance at Olympic gold, the researcher who devotes years to one single study. Generalists are scorned as dilettantes, dabblers, wannabes. To look for the whole picture is to "lose focus" We've lost our sense of scope to some degree, and with it frequently the inspiration and connections that cross-disciplines can provide.

So now to end my mini-rant, (and geez, for those of you still reading, I thought that this comment thing might have a text cutoff point, but no) bravo to y'all, the thriller writers, whose cave diving, snorkeling, knitting, or whatever frequently bleeds into your books, making them a truer, and more often interesting, read.